What is clostridium difficile?
Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) is a bacterium that has been associated with outbreaks of diarrhea and colitis in hospital patients and nursing home residents. The bacteria usually cause problems in people who have had antibiotic treatment.
Most of the positive cultures for C. difficile come from children under the age of two, but there are usually no symptoms in this age group. The bacteria produces a spore that can survive for a long time. The spores prefer to live in dry, dusty areas, but have been found on handrails, toilet seats and bedpan washers in hospitals.
Approximately 30% of hospitalized patients have these bacteria in their intestine at any given time, but do not have symptoms. This is called “colonization.”
C. difficile infections usually occur in a person who has been on antibiotic therapy. It is believed that many people carry these bacteria in their intestines without any symptoms. Antibiotic use can activate the bacteria to start producing symptoms.
What are the symptoms of clostridium difficile?
Diarrhea is the most common symptom seen in patients infected with
C. difficile. The severity of the diarrhea ranges from no symptoms, to mild diarrhea to very severe diarrhea with a frequency of 20 to 30 stools a day and lasting two to three months.
Learn more about diarrheal infections.
How is clostridium difficile spread?
The bacteria can be passed from person to person through direct contact, environmental contamination (bedding, commodes, bedpans, sinks, floors, thermometers and stethoscopes) and can be carried on the hands of health care workers as they move from patient to patient.
How is clostridium difficile treated?
Discontinuation of the antibiotic may be all that is necessary to treat the illness. Treatment of asymptomatic patients (patients not showing any symptoms) is not recommended.
About 10 to 20% of patients will experience a recurrence of symptoms after they complete their first course of treatment.
Drink plenty of fluids and monitor the illness for signs of dehydration.
Signs of dehydration include:
- dry lips and mouth
- dark coloured urine with a foul smell
- lack of energy
- flushed skin
- increased heart rate
How is clostridium difficile prevented?
Hand washing is the single most effective method of preventing this and many other infections. Hand washing is especially important after handling feces and prior to eating, feeding or providing mouth care to patients.
Isolation of any known cases of C. difficile in health care facilities is important to limit the spread to others. The isolation procedures should include dedicated stethoscopes, thermometers and commode chairs that will be used for that person only. Proper cleaning and disinfection of surfaces in a C. difficile positive person’s room is a must.